ATHENS, Ga. — Nakobe Dean’s eyes are glued to the TV above him. Fresh off football practice and film sessions, the Georgia linebacker is in the middle of Pauley’s, a loud restaurant in downtown Athens. The Monday night game in late November is on every screen, but tonight Dean’s the main event, the reason everyone is there, wearing Georgia red, dropping off canned goods at the front of the store before coming up to say hello and take a picture.
In the midst of all the hoopla, Dean still can’t turn off the part of his brain that gravitates toward the ball. As the TV crew breaks down Tom Brady highlights — the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are playing the New York Giants, who have two Georgia alums, J.R. Reed and Tae Crowder — Dean watches intently. Soon, in the middle of a play, he catches himself telling the linebacker where to go.
“I can’t look at football and not think, ‘What was supposed to happen right there?’ or ‘Why did you do that?'” Dean says later that night. “That instinct is just in me now.”
Those who have known Dean since he was just a kid growing up in Horn Lake, Mississippi, would argue it has always been in him. But things are indeed different now. Offenses are more complex. Classes are harder. Life is busier. Stakes are higher.
The potential is, too — along with the money. That’s certainly new, or at least different. Ever since the NCAA approved name, image and likeness deals for college athletes in June, the money has been moving in broad daylight. Without any structured oversight from the NCAA and loose restrictions varying from state to state, the world of NIL has become, in the words of one marketing agent, the Wild West.
For players like Dean, NIL has added another dimension to their college experience. Navigating it has been both a challenge and an opportunity. From figuring out where the money is coming from, to where it’s going and how it’ll be taxed, to balancing it with all other requirements, football or not, players have realized they need a plan.
“When NIL deals started rolling in, my priorities were having them still let me focus on football and whether there was a way to give through the deals,” Dean says.
As Dean stands at the advent of a new era for college athletes, he is playing out an ideal year in Athens. On the field, he has …….